It may have taken 13 years, but on Saturday, Reading finally beat Swansea City. 16 consecutive games against their Welsh foes without a win. And perhaps it couldn’t have come at a more unlikely time.

With Swansea in excellent form, losing just two of their previous nine and Reading seemingly heading the opposite direction after just one of their last seven - the result seemed a near foregone conclusion. One journalist in the Swansea.com Stadium press box even remarked that Reading would do quite well to keep the score to only three or four-nil.

After two minutes that prediction seemed a touch kind on the Royals when Jamie Paterson sliced through to score the opener.

Yet at full time, it was the Reading players celebrating with their contingent of travelling supporters behind the goal. Meanwhile, Swansea trudged off the pitch to an empty backdrop with much of the home crowd already gone.

Reading Chronicle: Luke Southwood and Tom Holmes celebrate Reading's victory at Swansea. Image by: JasonPIX.Luke Southwood and Tom Holmes celebrate Reading's victory at Swansea. Image by: JasonPIX.

History and the form guide thrown in the trash. So just how did Reading earn their triumph in the home of the Swans? And what can Velijko Paunovic take from this performance?

This three-part series looks at just that. 

DEFENDING THE BOX

Reading are a team who like the ball. No matter the opponent, no matter the situation, Reading want possession. In fact, they’ve kept so much possession this season without turning it into anything concrete that it’s become a problem - something we touched on after last week’s defeat to Sheffield United.

But on Saturday, the ball eluded them. No team in the Championship has more possession than Swansea’s season-long average of 65.9%. Attempting to match them up would have been ludicrous - such would be trying to beat a better side at their more refined game.

So instead, Velijko Paunovic and his team adapted. Swansea held 73.5% of the ball on Saturday, but Reading remained firm, forcing the hosts to try and break them down. While Swansea’s 32 touches in the box dwarfed Reading’s 12, what the two teams actually did with their share of the ball in threatening areas tells the story of the Royals’ staunch resistance. Of Swansea’s 19 shots only five came from inside the box as Reading packed the middle and forced Russel Martin’s team to shoot from long range. The visitors on the other hand actually bested that number of shots in the box, taking their limited ball and frequently turning it into concrete moments of danger.

Reading Chronicle: While Swansea had 19 shots, just five of them came in the box compared to Reading's six.While Swansea had 19 shots, just five of them came in the box compared to Reading's six.

While Swansea did emerge on top 1.4-1.3 in terms of expected goals (xG) - a metric used to measure the quality of each team’s chances - the home side’s average xG per shot was significantly lower than Reading’s. Swansea averaged 0.07 xG per shot, a 7% likelihood of each effort going in, while Reading’s xG per shot doubled that at 0.14. Swansea did create chances, Luke Southwood required to make a number of fine stops, but on the whole, Reading kept them to quite little considering the hosts' dominance on the ball.

It wasn’t always pretty but consistently throughout the 90 minutes, Reading made things incredibly tough for their opponents. Paunovic’s side shrunk the pitch, got bodies behind the ball, and forced Swansea to either move it quickly - something they’ve struggled with this season - or pick out a spectacular final pass.

The below image comes from the 33rd minute of Saturday’s clash. Having just scored to take a 2-1 lead, Reading are immediately back in numbers to defend and keep Swansea at bay.

Reading Chronicle: Reading defending in numbers as Swansea attack.Reading defending in numbers as Swansea attack.

 

Ethan Laird has the ball on Swansea’s right-hand side, but finding a way through this stubborn Reading defence will be tough. Abdul Baba-Rahman is faced up to the Swansea winger, but even if he manages to beat the Ghanaian, John Swift’s recovery run means that support is on hand - stopping Laird from coming back inside at the same time. Meanwhile, there are another four Reading men in the box, helping keep a numeric superiority against Swansea’s attackers.

After much deliberation, Laird eventually decides to retreat and Swansea recycle possession before playing a clumsy pass out for a Reading throw-in.

Reading Chronicle:

 

The moment of hyper-organisation may have seemed relatively innocuous, but both Andy Carroll and Swift, slightly higher up the pitch after chasing the ball, reward themselves and their teammates with applause for their efforts.

Reading Chronicle:

 

Ten minutes later, with Reading closing in on half-time armed with the lead, Tom Dele-Bashiru carries the ball up the pitch and beats a pair of Swansea players before getting robbed. Usually compact and organised on Saturday, suddenly Reading are out of their shape. Swansea break through Olivier Ntcham who aims a ball out to Ryan Manning, free on the left wing. 

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The Reading players are already streaming back quickly and by the time Manning takes a touch, Paunovic’s team have sufficiently retreated, a total of eight players getting back behind the ball. Once again Swansea are forced to turn around and play backwards. 

Reading Chronicle: Drinkwater and Halilovic get back to defend.Drinkwater and Halilovic get back to defend. While this moment was no doubt fueled by the pre-match game-plan - with Danny Drinkwater and Alen Halilovic immediately conscious of their roles when their side lost the ball - this passage of play is also just down to pure effort. The two midfielders strode forward whenever possible but still put in the commitment to get back and help their defence.

 

Our next example comes from the 86th minute as Swansea pile on the pressure in search of an equaliser. As they drive forward what do they see? A wall of yellow shirts in front of them.

Kyle Naughton is on the ball and his options are in a word...limited. Laird is being marshalled by Baba Rahman while each Swansea player around the penalty spot is man-marked. On the edge of the box is another four Royals, all ready to pounce while simultaneously blocking the passing lanes into the box. In total Reading have nine players - and their goalkeeper - around the box compared to just six for Swansea.

In the end, Naughton lays it off to Ntcham who tries a speculative effort from distance. The shot is blocked before it reaches Southwood’s goal; one of Swansea’s 14 efforts from outside the penalty area.

Reading Chronicle: Kyle Naughton on the ball with nowhere to go.Kyle Naughton on the ball with nowhere to go.

If this is starting to feel repetitive it’s because it is. Swansea may have dominated the play, but Reading ensured that life would be extremely uncomfortable for their hosts. The back four combined for 26 clearances but only three of them occurred in their own six-yard box as Reading managed to enforce a defensive line and not drop too deep.

In the end, Swansea failed to break Reading down with any sort of regularity and while their supporters can complain about ‘parking the bus’ or utilise any other kind of deprecative terminology, defending as the Royals did takes organization, concentration, huge effort, and yes, talent.

In a tough situation, staring down at the relegation zone following the recent points deduction Reading needed to play winning football, not special football. Beginning with a defensive foundation, Reading did just that - winning the game by playing effective winning football.

But that wasn't the only secret to their impressive victory. Up next, we take a look at the man of the moment, big Andy Carroll.